Whenever a team wins the NRL premiership, the victorious coach is invariably asked whether they can go back to back and they always say they’re confident of defending their title.
The most influential play of the year in rugby league was Jarryd Hayne’s failure to throw that pass to unmarked support in the second State of Origin match, in Sydney.
Hayne throws that pass just before halftime and NSW leads 20 or 22-6, a score reflecting the Blues’ dominance, an uninhibited NSW continue to play with confidence, and that’s a score too far for an outplayed Maroons to come back.
Hayne is a hero, as are the other Blues, Laurie Daley has the coaching job for as long as he wants it, and the coaching management structure is lauded, while
Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson’s transgressions are accepted as part of the figurative cost.
But Hayne didn’t throw that pass.
An inhibited NSW pooed themselves with a win in sight, the Hayne Plane crashed, Laurie Daley got the chop, the coaching-management structure is now a case of too many cooks spoiling the preparation, and NSW must start again.
Daley deserved a smoother departure. He has a permanent historical place as a great player, and certainly a team player. He was perhaps too much the nice guy as Origin coach, but that’s not the worst sin.
Hayne will be remembered as one of history’s most gifted players, capable of freakish feats no other player could match.
Or should be remembered as such. Now?
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The portents were there when Hayne went to American football. To make the top in his first season without a background in the game was one of the great achievements of any Australian sportsperson.
Had he knuckled down and tried to back up in his second year, quite possible, the achievement would have been greater. Had he not made it, his achievement would not have been diminished.
Had he have returned straight to rugby league after one NFL season, Hayne would have returned the conquering hero, rightly so. Instead, he decided he would attempt to continue as the conquering hero by making the Fijian rugby sevens team for the Olympics.
This was ridiculous on two counts.
First, American football is an explosive game of short bursts, and Hayne had bulked up to play it, losing a couple of metres in pace. Sevens is the most sustained and aerobically demanding of games. The contrast could not be more extreme, and there was virtually no transitional time for Hayne.
Second and more important, the Olympic sevens is the ultimate goal for Fijians trying for a sporting lifetime to make the squad. For Hayne to swan in and expect to replace one of those players was morally wrong. In retrospect, his subsequent rugby league travails have not been unexpected.
Rugby league has moved on from the inside centre, outside centre, traditional backline days. But the centre’s most important attribute then was pace over the first five metres and it remains so.
Hayne is unusual in having been slow off the mark for such a speedster at his peak.
It was no surprise to see him troubled at centre by Queensland’s pacy Will Chambers, but then Chambers is a natural centre and Hayne and Dugan were great players and natural fullbacks playing in the centres.
It didn’t require blinding insight to know a natural, experienced centre like Parramatta’s Michael Jennings might have been a better bet for one of the positions.
A cricket game can hinge on one dismissal – batsmen don’t get second chances – but there are multiple chances to atone in football games.
The unfortunate Neville Glover is always cited as costing Parramatta the 1976 grand final for dropping the ball with the line open, but the Eels had other chances in that game.
But the Hayne decision stands alone.
There has never been an example that has matched the repercussions from one player’s split-second decision not to pass a ball, reflecting a Hayne mindset.
He has the summer to reflect on what life might be like after football, how he can invest his $1.2 million and what he owes the Titans.
It will be only a tragedy if he leaves the game to boos, instead of the gratitude of those lucky enough to see freakish Jarryd Hayne performances.